Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bigotry In My Backyard

Amber Koger and Jeri Underwood took in Amber's niece and two nephews after a divorce tore the children's family apart. The state of Idaho intervened on the behalf of the children and placed the children in the stable, loving care of their aunt and her partner. They appear to be a happy, caring family...to everyone except the Lava Hot Springs State Foundation. Ms. Koger and Ms. Underwood were denied a family pass at the swimming complex in Lava because the state-associated complex does not recognize two loving parents and three happy children as a family.

The Lava Hot Springs State Foundation staff denied the family rate to the Koger/Underwood family during their recent visit to the swimming complex, but offered Koger and two of the three children the rate, expecting the other members of the family to pay the separate admission price.

Arguments being offered by the Foundation as well as the staff at the Lava complex and those choosing to comment on the story via the Idaho State Journal's website, all seem to revolve around the fact that Idaho does not accept or recognize same-sex marriage and that the Foundation was bound by law to not recognize the Koger/Underwood family as just that--a family. The ISJ article quotes the swimming complex definition of family as "mom, dad, and children," but also goes on to say that the Ross Park Aquatic Center here in Pocatello holds a family night and all types of families are welcome to attend.

There are so many components of this unfortunate story that contradict one other. Why would the Lava Hot Springs State Foundation quote the definition of a family if they do not have a written policy defining a family as such and a situation like this has never previously arisen? Why would the Foundation feel obligated to uphold their penned definition of family in this situation, but when a single mother or father ask for the family rate they are allowed entrance as are grandparents and even children who are visiting the pool with their aunts or uncles? Clearly, the staff at Lava have defined family as any type of relationship as long as it does not involve same-sex partners. And why would the staff offer a family pass to Ms. Koger and her two nephews, excluding not only Ms. Underwood, but Ms. Koger's niece? The story points out that of the three children, the niece had been living with her aunts the longest and yet she is not included with her brothers in the non-traditional single parent family that the Lava staff presented as an option for Koger and Underwood.

If the guardianship of these children could be entrusted to Koger and Underwood, how is that anything less than a family? As the children and their parents point out in the story, Koger and Underwood have offered a safe, loving environment for the children and an environment that is much better from their previous situation with two opposite-sex parents. After all, a family can be what you make it and less and less is that unit resembling the 1950s stereotypical "mom, dad, and kids."

The Lava Hot Springs State Foundation and the many commenting on this story may state however many times they like that same-sex relationships are not legally recognized in this state. Let's remember that the definition of "family" is not legal terminology. Just because the state of Idaho does not recognize same-sex marriage does not mean that family units with any combination of partners, same-sex included, are any less of a "family" than the rest.

As a kid I went to Lava a handful of times. I wasn't much for water, but I did enjoy laying out in the sun with a book and playing an occasional game of volleyball in the sand. As I kid I never went to Lava with my mom, dad, and brother, but I sure was admitted into Lava nearly on every visit at the family rate. I went with cousins, one over eighteen, the rest of us twelve or younger. I went with aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors and friends. Why was my "family" any better than the Koger/Underwood family? It wasn't. We were just a little closer to the conservative, stereotypical definition of a traditional family that Lava was looking for when giving out their discounts. Almost as if they are rewarding you for having a nuclear family that resembles the Cleavers on the surface, no matter how muddled and lacking in love it might be under the surface. I could have easily walked into Lava, a family pass acquired, with parents, a mother and father, who aren't even biologically related to me. That's a traditional family?

It is horribly unfortunate that the right has no other way of defending the despicable action taken by the Lava Foundation than to dig up their well-worn talking points on same-sex marriage. To quote one of the comments at the ISJ: "This isn't about marriage. It's about family." Those who wish to belittle Ms. Koger and Ms. Underwood for their love for each other are truly lacking in intelligence. Decent rhetoric would not resort to calling these women cheapskates who want to "save a buck by claiming they are a family." It is even more unfortunate that those who are talking about this story today are questioning the state of Idaho's decision to place the children with Ms. Koger and her partner in the first place. Shame on the Idaho State Journal for giving the right a medium where they can attack two women they don't even know about a situation that is far more complex than their "littleness" can comprehend.

I was recently thinking about taking a few days off and spending them in Lava. The Lava Foundation will not be receiving another dollar from me and I hope my friends who are given "free" (somebody pays for them) tickets to Lava for being summer school students at Idaho State University will tear up those tickets. The only way to eliminate the hate and bigotry around us is to directly counter it and stop indirectly supporting it.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Hi Tara, this is Scott Pearhill from the Lava Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. I appreciated many of the comments in your blog. I wanted to let you know that the Lava Chamber, which represents more than 70 area businesses recently published a press release addressing the issue in which we welcome all people to Lava and indeed to Idaho. You can find the post on the chamber website: www.lavahotsprings.org (notice ".org"). Near the top of the chamber's home page a link says "recent press release". -- Scott Pearhill, Lava Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce President